On paper, this year's Super Bowl matchup looks pretty good. True, neither team hails from a Top 5 market like New York or L.A. And we really don't have a storied NFL franchise in the game, like the Packers or Patriots.
But we do have a classic battle of quarterbacks, each representing the past and future of the league. Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes is 25 years-old and is already playing for his second consecutive trophy.
On the other end of the spectrum, Tom Brady – the ageless wonder – suits up with his new team, the Tampa Bay Bucs, in a quest for his record seventh Super Bowl win. (He currently holds the record with six of those gaudy rings.) At 43 years-old, Brady is breaking millions of New England hearts with his new team.
And the game will be played in Tampa's Raymond James stadium, making it a home game for the Bucs. Except that only about 22,000 seats – only about one-third of its capacity – will be available. The NFL gets credit, as many of these coveted tickets will be distributed free to health care workers – all of whom could use a Sunday off.
And the pandemic threatens to upset the continuity of perhaps the most predictable, dependable event in all of media. While success for shows like the Oscars, the World Series, the Olympics, or a presidential election can be fleeting, the Super Bowl stands out as a sure thing for advertisers.
But not this year.
Not surprisingly, that same phenomenon will happen on Super Bowl Sunday as some familiar brands will be M.I.A. In fact, some of the biggest and most consistent advertisers are taking a pass on LV. Among them, Budweiser, Coke and Pepsi. Even Avocados From Mexico is ending their six-year run of advertising in “The Big Game.” And while it remains to be seen whether CBS will suffer from some of these marketing defections, the rate for a Super Bowl spot is in the $5.5 million range.
Some brands are betting the viewing audience will be diminished and/or different than usual. Olay is one of them, perhaps assuming there will be fewer women viewing this year's game at Super Bowl parties and mass gatherings.
But other big-name companies may be making different assumptions about this year, thanks in no small part to COVID. And it presents a challenge to marketers who simply can't write a seven-figure check to CBS and call it a day. LV requires a lot of whiteboarding, brainstorming, and maybe even some hand-wringing. And lots of cash.
The Budweiser strategy speaks to that. Rather than their patented over-the-top humor ads or the ones that use horses, dogs, and grizzled athletes to make us feel warm, the King of Beers is taking a decidedly different approach to this gridiron showdown between two great quarterbacks.
“Wassup” is being replaced by “Get Vaccinated.” With the help of that all too familiar Bill Withers soundtrack, Bud is sinking their normal spot dollar expenditures on a campaign to raise awareness for the COVID vaccine.
That may sound more mundane than usual, but Bud's pandemic strategy is already garnering quite a bit of attention for their commitment to rallying Americans around beating the virus. Echoing their hope for all of us, the tag line speaks for the entire country:
“See you at the game next year.”
That doesn't mean that other brands won't go back to tried-and-true humor, celebrity cameos, and the usual Super Bowl advertising tricks. But LV symbolizes the same break of norms we saw at virtual CES 2021 a couple weeks back. We saw the effects of the pandemic as some big-name tech companies took the year off, choosing not to participate in a virtual version of this consumer electronic extravaganza.
In years past, the mega-brands like Samsung and LG that did show up, usually lead with their eye-catching, big screen OLED TVs and other “oh wow” devices. While flexible, folding, and transparent screens were still abundant this year, nearly all demos and sizzle reels for these companies led with health, safety, and hygiene.
From Clydesdales to COVID, this year's Super Bowl ads could follow suit. Rather than those cluster-busting, party-stopping commercials designed to trigger watercooler talk, this year may symbolize a reset. Truth be told, many keen viewers – and partiers – have felt these expensive ads had been missing the mark anyway in recent contests. Like everything else with this virus, even “The Big Game” isn't immune from the tsunami-like effect of change in the air.
And it makes you wonder if some of the other Super Bowl assumptions shouldn't be questioned. Most of us in radio subscribe to the “given” that the day is a total loss. Unless you're carrying the play-by-play of the action, chances are good that Super Sunday will end up being “one of those days” in the ratings – especially in PPM markets where a bad day can cost you.
But this year, maybe all bets are off. While we may not know the audience's intent to watch this year's game, we do know there will be pressure to avoid gatherings and events where people party, eat and drink, and occasionally look over to see who's ahead or when the halftime show begins.
Perhaps viewership will be down as the more social among us make the decision to hit the malls or pursue other activities on a day usually reserved for the couch and loungers.
So in theory, at least, there may actually be opportunities for music stations to enjoy a little Super Sunday sunshine in February by trying special or stunt programming on a day that's always a wash. Like everything else with COVID, it will not be a routine event.
And in keeping with this very different Super Bowl, the NFL is eschewing a Classic Rocker this year, like Springsteen or U2, or a diva such as Lady Gaga or Madonna.
Instead, it's Canadian artist, The Weeknd (pictured above right). And before you all say “WHO?!” in unison, like everything else this Super Bowl LV, even the musical entertainment will be different and even fresh.
It might make sense to pay a little more attention than usual.
You just don't know what might happen in LV.
Meantime, have you tried my homemade Super Bowl hors d'oeuvres? They're delish.